Digital footprint

Digital footprint or digital shadow refers to one's unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications manifested on the Internet or on digital devices.[1][2][3][4] On the World Wide Web, the internet footprint;[5] also known as cyber shadow, electronic footprint, or digital shadow, is the information left behind as a result of a user's web-browsing and stored as cookies. The term usually applies to an individual person, but can also refer to a business, organization and corporation.[6]

There are two main classifications for digital footprints: passive and active. A passive digital footprint is data collected without the owner knowing (also known as data exhaust),[7] whereas active digital footprints are created when personal data is released deliberately by a user for the purpose of sharing information about oneself by means of websites or social media.[8] Information may be intentionally or unintentionally left behind by the user; with it being either passively or actively collected by other interested parties. Depending on the amount of information left behind, it may be simple for other parties to gather large amounts of information on that individual using simple search engines.

Tony Fish expounded upon the possible dangers of digital footprints in a 2007 self-published book.[9] The closed loop takes data from the open loop and provides this as a new data input. This new data determines what the user has reacted to, or how they have been influenced. The feedback then builds a digital footprint based on social data, and the controller of the social digital footprint data can determine how and why people purchase and behave.

Katalin Fehér emphasized in her academic research paper about personal online strategies in 2017[10] that users leave digital footprints behind via online systems and new media. Human interactions and digitalized automatization imply decisions and dilemmas on account of online participation. The consequences are unpredictable: both former and updated records are available in an infinite digital present. Her article in Journal of Information Science is also emphasise that "the universal patterns of online personal strategies follow mostly conscious decisions, resulting in users maintaining 70% control of their digital footprints. However, the remaining 30% of online activities are unconscious floating with digital dynamics and resulting in a wide range of non-expected consequences from identity theft to kidnapping" [11]

Types of digital footprints

Passive digital footprints can be stored in many ways depending on the situation. In an online environment, a footprint may be stored in an online data base as a "hit". This footprint may track the user IP address, when it was created, and where they came from; with the footprint later being analyzed. In an offline environment, a footprint may be stored in files, which can be accessed by administrators to view the actions performed on the machine, without seeing who performed them.

Active digital footprints can also be stored in many ways depending on the situation. In an online environment, a footprint can be stored by a user being logged into a site when making a post or change, with the registered name being connected to the edit. In an offline environment a footprint may be stored in files, when the owner of the computer uses a keylogger, so logs can show the actions performed on the machine, and who performed them. One feature of keylogger monitors the clipboard for any changes. This may be problematic as the user may copy passwords or take screenshots of sensitive information which is then logged.

Privacy issues

Digital footprints are not a digital identity or passport, but the content and meta data collected impacts upon internet privacy, trust, security, digital reputation, and recommendation. As the digital world expands and integrates with more aspects of life, ownership and rights of data becomes important. Digital footprints are controversial in that privacy and openness are in competition.[12] Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, said in 1999 Get Over It when referring to privacy on the Internet.[13] This later became a commonly used quote in relationship to private data and what companies do with it.

Internet footprints are used by interested parties for several reasons; including cyber-vetting,[14] where interviewers could research applicants based on their online activities. Internet footprints are also used by law enforcement agencies, to provide information that would be unavailable otherwise due to a lack of probable cause.[15] In addition, digital footprints are used by marketers in order to find what products a user is interested in, or to inspire ones' interest in a certain product based on similar interests.[16]

Social networking systems may record activities of individuals, with data becoming a life stream. Such usage of social media and roaming services allow digital tracing data to include individual interests, social groups, behaviors, and location. Such data is gathered from sensors within devices, and collected and analyzed without user awareness. Many social media sites, like Facebook, collect an extensive amount of information that can be used to piece together a user's personality. Information gathered from social media, such as the number of friends a user has, can predict whether or not the user has an introvert or extrovert personality.

While digital footprint can be used to infer personal information, such as demographic traits, sexual orientation, race, religious and political views, personality, or intelligence[17] without individuals' knowledge, it also exposes individuals private psychological sphere into the social sphere.[18] Lifelogging is an example of indiscriminate collection of information concerning an individuals life and behavior.[19] There are actions to take to make a digital footprint difficult to track.[20] Illustrating examples of the usage or interpretation of data trails is found at the example of Facebook-influenced creditworthiness ratings,[21] the judicial investigations around German social scientist Andrej Holm,[22] advertisement-junk mails by the American company OfficeMax[23] or the border incident of Canadian citizen Ellen Richardson.[24]

Effects on workforce

Doctors are highly searched on the internet which makes upholding and maintaining a digital footprint critical. A digital footprint is ones identity online based upon a person's personality or one's career path, but also based upon someone's activity through the internet. Most people nowadays, go online to search for doctors and read reviews. This contains a lot of information on how to uphold and maintain a good digital footprint.[25] While going through research of different facilities using one’s digital footprint, the top 10 ranked Urology residency program websites appeared and this provides factual data based on one's digital identity, which can either benefit or harm a business or company.[26] A digital footprint is also made up upon someone's interaction on social media, such as the posts or comments they share on different social media sites. This provides us with factual data which makes interaction safer online, by knowing who one's true self through a digital footprint.[27]

Not only are doctors impacted by their digital footprint, but anyone that has a digital footprint will be impacted, especially those that will eventually enter the workforce. Job employers will likely look into applicants digital footprint during the hiring process. Job applicants who have a negative digital footprint, or a digital footprint that doesn't reflect their character well, will struggle landing a job.[28][29]

Effects on teens

Not only do those entering the workforce need to consider the effect of their digital footprint, but also those who provides relevant information to teens.[30] Having a digital footprint may be dangerous for students, as affiliations such as college admissions staff and potential employers may decide to research into prospective students and employee's online profiles, leading to a large impact on the students' futures.[30] Teens will be set up for more success if they consider the kind of impact they are making along with how it can affect their future. Rather, someone who acts apathetic towards the impression they are making online will struggle if they one day choose to attend college or enter into the workforce.[31] Teens that plan on receiving a higher education will have their digital footprint reviewed and assessed as a part of the application process.[32] In addition, if the teens that have the intention of receiving a higher education are planning to do so with financial help and scholarships, then they need to consider that their digital footprint will be evaluated in the application process for scholarships.[33]

Build a positive digital footprint

The negative impact of a digital footprint could be daunting and make one flee from social media in attempt to not have a digital footprint at all, yet this can be beneficial if thought about carefully and not carelessly. Experts advise people not to delete their accounts in an attempt to go off the map;[34] instead, experts advise doing the following actions in order to create an appealing digital footprint:

  1. Research yourself: By doing this one can see what type of information follows them and is a part of their digital footprint.[35][36]
  2. Think before posting: This will allow for time to consider whether or not this is something that should be a part of one's digital footprint. Sources say that those who do not consider all possible implications of what they post on the internet may be negatively affected when looking for employment. [37]
  3. Highlight attractive traits and qualities: Using the Internet and social media outlets to highlight one's greatest attributes and qualities will allow the person to be seen in a positive light. Since it is already known that digital footprints are evaluated by potential job employers and universities in the application process then applicants should use that to their benefit and to make them look attractive.[38]

See also


  1. " digital footprint". Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  2. "What is Digital Footprint? Webopedia Definition". Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  3. "Digital Footprint Definition". Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  4. "What is digital footprint? - Definition from". Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  5. Garfinkel, Simson; Cox, David. "Finding and Archiving the Internet Footprint" (PDF). Presented at the first Digital Lives Research Conference. London, England.
  6. COLLINS, KATIE. "Monitoring digital footprints to prevent reputation damage and cyber attacks". Archived from the original on 12 August 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  7. Girardin, Fabien; Calabrese, Francesco; Fiore, Filippo Dal; Ratti, Carlo; Blat, Josep (2008). "Digital Footprinting: Uncovering Tourists with User-Generated Content". IEEE Pervasive Computing. 7 (4): 36–43. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/MPRV.2008.71.
  8. Madden, Fox, Smith & Vitak, Mary, Susannah, Aaron, Jessica (2007). "Digital Footprints". Pew Research Center.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. My Digital Footprint: A two-sided digital business model where your privacy will be someone else's business! [Kindle Edition]
  10. Katalin Fehér NetFrameWork and the digitalized-mediatized self, CJSSP
  11. Katalin Fehér Digital identity and the online self: Footprint strategies – An exploratory and comparative research study, Journal of Information Science 2019
  12. Gardham, Duncan (26 January 2009). "Threat to privacy under data law, campaigners warn". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  13. Sprenger, Polly (26 January 1999). "Sun on Privacy: 'Get Over It'". Wired. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  14. Dalgord, Chelsea (2012-12-07). "Cybervetting: The Hiring Process in the Digital Age". Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  15. Diab, Robert (2018). "Protecting the Right to Privacy in Digital Devices: Reasonable Search on Arrest and at the Border". University of New Brunswick Law Journal. 69: 96–125.
  16. Wyner, Gordon. "Digital Footprints Abound". American Marketing Association. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  17. Kosinski, Michal; Stillwell, D.; Graepel, T. (2013). "Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior". PNAS USA. 110 (15): 5802–5805. doi:10.1073/pnas.1218772110. PMC 3625324. PMID 23479631.
  18. Latour, Bruno (15 January 2015). "Beware, your imagination leaves digital traces" (PDF). Column for Times Higher Education Supplement.
  19. O’Hara, Kieron; Tuffield, Mischa M.; Shadbolt, Nigel (2008). "Lifelogging: Privacy and empowerment with memories for life". Identity in the Information Society. 1 (1): 155–172. doi:10.1007/s12394-009-0008-4.
  20. Singer, Natasha (19 June 2013). "Ways to Make Your Online Tracks Harder to Follow". The New York Times Company. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  21. Lobosco, Katie (26 August 2013). "Facebook friends could change your credit score". The Guardian. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  22. "Guantánamo in Germany". The Guardian. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  23. Bellware, Kim. "Mike Seay Gets OfficeMax Junk Mail Referencing Daughter Killed In Car Crash". HuffPost. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  24. "Border refusal for depressed paraplegic shows Canada-U.S. security co-operation has gone too far". The Star. Toronto. 29 November 2013. Retrieved December 20, 2013.
  25. Kim, Christopher; Gupta, Raghav; Shah, Aakash; Madill, Evan; Prabhu, Arpan V.; Agarwal, Nitin (2018-05-01). "Digital Footprint of Neurological Surgeons". World Neurosurgery. 113: e172–e178. doi:10.1016/j.wneu.2018.01.210. ISSN 1878-8750. PMID 29427816.
  26. Gill, Bradley C.; Ericson, Kyle J.; Hemal, Sij; Babbar, Paurush; A. Shoskes, Daniel (2016). "The Digital Footprint of Academic Urologists: Where Do we Stand?". Urology. 90: 27–31. doi:10.1016/j.urology.2015.12.013. ISSN 0090-4295. PMID 26802802.
  27. Lambiotte, Renaud; Kosinski, Michal (2014). "Tracking the Digital Footprints of Personality". Proceedings of the IEEE. 102 (12): 1934–1939. doi:10.1109/jproc.2014.2359054. ISSN 0018-9219.
  28. "Take Charge of Your Online Reputation". Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  29. "3 Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation". Purdue Global. Retrieved 2019-04-04.
  30. "10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  31. "Take Charge of Your Online Reputation". Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  32. Ouytsel, Joris (July 2014). "How Schools Can Help Their Students to Strengthen Their Online Reputations". The Clearing House: 180–184 via EBSCOhost.
  33. "Harmful Digital Footprint Impacts That Parents Should Know About". Retrieved 2019-04-04.
  34. "Social Media Screenings Increase for Job Seekers". Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  35. "3 Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation". Purdue Global. Retrieved 2019-04-04.
  36. "Take Charge of Your Online Reputation". Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  37. Osborne, Nicola (January 2015). "Managing Your Digital Footprint: Possible Implications for Teaching and Learning". Proceedings of the European Conference on E-Learning: 358–359 via EBSCOhost.
  38. Ouytsel, Joris (July 2014). "How Schools Can Help Their Students to Strengthen Their Online Reputations". The Clearing House: 180–184 via EBSCOhost.

Further reading

Kieron O’Hara- Lifelogging: Privacy and empowerment with memories for life (Tuffield, Mischa M. and Shadbolt, Nigel (2009))

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